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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » 2003 Ghent-Wevelgem & Omloop Het Volk
2003 Ghent-Wevelgem & Omloop Het Volk
World Cycling Productions // Unrated // September 23, 2003 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Worldcycling]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted October 3, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Coming early in the season, the Omloop Het Volk (March 1) and the Ghent-Wevelgem (April 9) bicycle races are places for the pros to test their racing fitness and assess their competitors. Neither of the two races award points for the World Cup competition, but they're nonetheless a traditional part of the spring Classics circuit, offering viewers the chance to see their favorites: are they in form to attack and snatch a victory, or are they still finding their "racing legs"? World Cycling Productions' two-disc set gives us an hour and a half of coverage of the Omloop Het Volk and close to two hours of Ghent-Wevelgem, with the usual excellent commentary by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.

Het Volk

Het Volk isn't as prestigious as Ghent-Wevelgem, but with its smattering of hills like the Oude Kwaremont along with some flat cobbled sections, it holds the potential for some interesting action. 2003's edition showcases the total domination of the Quickstep powerhouse: along with leader Johan Museeuw, the "Lion of Flanders," the team contains Paulo Bettini, more than capable of snatching a win on his own, the up-and-coming Tom Boonen, and the extremely talented but also mercurial Frank Vandenbrooke.

In fact, after some attacking action earlier in the race, at about the 50 km mark, the race shows signs of turning into a Quickstep team time trial, with no fewer than four of the Quickstep team in a breakaway along with U.S. Postal's Max Van Heeswijk and Cofidis' Peter Farazijn, leaving the peloton (and the other challengers) a safe distance behind. However, the last part of the race, particularly the last 25 km or so, turns out to be quite interesting indeed; with Museeuw, Bettini, Boonen, and Vandenbrooke all capable of taking the victory on their own, it becomes an open question of whether the Quickstep team will really be "one for all and all for one" as they near the finish of Het Volk. Meanwhile, the outnumbered Van Heeswijk and Farazijn do their best to keep up with the Quickstep powerhouse, in the hopes of outfoxing them at the end.

At an hour and a half, the coverage of the 2003 Omloop Het Volk is a good length to cover all of the important events of the race. There are a few slower moments in the middle of the coverage, but it heats up to a nicely entertaining finale.

Ghent-Wevelgem

Sandwiched in the calendar three days after the Tour of Flanders and four days before Paris-Roubaix, Ghent-Wevelgem is a race that can hold a lot of surprises, and the 2003 edition is interesting throughout the race. The DVD coverage opens with an excellent introduction to the pre-race favorites, as co-commentator Paul Sherwen interviews many of the riders as they assemble for the start.

A large breakaway group is established early on, with many of the favorites, including five members of the Quickstep team, giving Quickstep a huge advantage if the group stayed together to the finish. What makes the race interesting is that the status quo changes several times throughout the race. The peloton fractures early on, with strong cross-winds helping to make the selection. Quickstep is in the right place at the right time, with Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen, and Servais Knaven all in the leading group along with riders from many other teams, but it's Rabobank and Cofidis who really miss out with no riders in the break, and are forced to chase strongly.

In large groups like the 20-odd breakaway and its equally-sized chase group, there will always be some riders working hard to keep things moving fast, and other riders who are "passengers": they're tagging along at the back, taking advantage of the slipstream of the other riders to take it easy, and avoiding turns at the front. In the case of the front group, the riders are well aware of two dangerous "passengers": the "Lion of Flanders" Johan Museeuw, who, sheltered behind his Quickstep teammates is holding himself back for a sudden attack at the right moment, and three-time winner of the race Mario Cipollini, who as a pure sprinter is hoping for the group to tow him all the way to the final stretch where he can go for a fourth victory. Obviously, the other riders don't want to give a free ride to a threat like that (or any other passengers!), and so over the tough Kemmelberg climb, which the race loops around to race over twice, the race is the scene of a tough battle as the strongest riders try to shatter the group into fragments.

The second Kemmelberg climb turns out to be the most significant, but it's far from a decisive move: the chase group behind is a constant threat. However, Cipollini ends up sabotaging his own chances for victory when, in a fit of temper, he throws a water bottle at a passing race referee. The last kilometers of the race ratchet up the excitement even further, as the breakaway group splits up even more and we see attacks and counter-attacks, culminating in an exciting and well-contested sprint.

After the introductory material, the Ghent-Wevelgem coverage runs about an hour and 45 minutes, and then wraps up with a five-minute update from co-commentator Phil Liggett after the race, in which he reports on the outcome of several events left "hanging" in the race: we learn that Cipollini was disqualified from the race, and we hear an update on the condition of several riders who crashed at various times during the race (including Paulo Bettini).

The DVD

Video

Both Het Volk and Ghent-Wevelgem are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, as we are seeing material that was originally broadcast on television. The overall image quality for Het Volk is very good, though it's not quite as sharp and clear as we see in some of the other race DVDs. During the first half of the race, we also get occasional moments of digital breakup in the image, but this is a minor flaw.

The image quality is very solid for Ghent-Wevelgem, with strong colors and good contrast making it easy to spot the riders in their team jerseys. The print is in very good condition, with no noise or print flaws at all; we do see a few instances of distortion in the image, but this is entirely the fault of interference in the original television signal, not the DVD transfer. Some minor edge enhancement appears, but it doesn't detract from the image at all.

Audio

Both races have a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, which is perfectly satisfactory for the race and its voiceover commentary by Liggett and Sherwen. The sound overall is very clean and clear, with Liggett and Sherwen's voices always distinct and natural-sounding. Some ambient sound adds a nice touch to the coverage without overwhelming it.

However, one irritating sound problem does crop up in the Het Volk DVD. From the beginning to about the 40-minute mark, we get periodic (and obtrusive) sharp popping noises in the soundtrack. I tested out two different brand-new copies of the Het Volk DVD in three different DVD players, and found the identical problem in both discs and on all players. It's clearly a defect in the DVD transfer, not in the source material; for one thing, whenever the "pop" occurs, it overrides the commentator's voice, something that never happens with sound breakup in the source material. As the race continues, the pops become more frequent up to about the 40-minute mark, at which point they stop completely and the soundtrack becomes entirely normal for the rest of the race.

I ended up dealing with the problem by turning the volume slightly lower while I was watching the affected portions of the race, so that the pops weren't as startling, so the Het Volk is still watchable. Fortunately, the Ghent-Wevelgem DVD is completely free of this problem, as are all of the other WCP DVDs that I've watched (including the other spring Classic releases), so I'm assuming that this is an isolated manufacturing problem.

Extras

There are no special features on either DVD. The menu image for Ghent-Wevelgem is unfortunately a spoiler for the winner of the race; I'd much rather have seen a nice action shot from sometime in the middle or beginning of the race. Four chapters are provided, with intelligently-placed breaks (at the Kemmelberg climb and two other key points) which are given useful thumbnail images and descriptive non-spoiler titles. The Het Volk menu is similar, also with four chapter breaks, but this time with descriptive titles and no thumbnail images.

Final thoughts

The 2003 Het Volk and Ghent-Wevelgem races are definitely worth watching, particularly in the context of the whole season. They're not as gripping as this year's Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, or Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but we do see some nice racing action and exciting finishes in both races. It's recommended.

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